Saturday, April 18, 2015

Old Words!

by Scott Howard Higginbotham

When you hear the words, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,” something can get lost in the translation.  Our modern lexicon rarely uses such high and lofty words as seen in the King James Version of the Holy Bible.  The preceding passage comes from 1 Corinthians 13: 4 and, is more easily understood as love being patient, kind, not boastful, and not proud.  Once you break through the archaic verbiage the words come alive, bringing forth a powerful rendering of the English language.  

This does not mean that modern readers are necessarily droll.  However, words used in yesteryear seem to carry more weight.  But how do we inform, educate, and keep dozing readers from falling asleep when they read such words?  Is there a magical and contextual tension where a relatively ancient word form can be used without alienating the reader?  Indeed, and the key is finding that perfect balance.  

This post is not centering on what words to use and the balance that can be created, but focuses on what some words commonly appearing in historical novels actually mean.

Ague- malaria or a similar illness
Betimes- in good time; early
Carl- a man of low birth
Demesne- a region or domain
Ere- before
Fain- pleased or willing under the circumstances
Gallant- a young gentleman
Hie- go quickly
Howbeit- nevertheless
In sooth- actually
Knave- dishonest or unscrupulous man
Leman- lover or sweetheart
Mayhap- perhaps or possibly
Otiose- lazy or slothful
Piepowder- a traveler or an itinerant merchant or trader
Perchance- by some chance
Peradventure- perhaps
Thither- to or toward a place
Varlet- an unprincipled rogue
Withal- in addition
Wight- a person of a specified kind
Wherat- at which
Whilom- formerly
Ye- you
Yea- yes


Photo by Scott Howard Higginbotham

Indeed, reading an historical novel is a leap for the uninitiated, but creating that perfect tightrope balance of old and modern words can draw and keep those readers that have not crossed over.  Lastly, this post would not be complete without something near and dear to me.  Enjoy some sword terminology!
 
Drawing by Scott Howard Higginbotham

Pommel: a termination point for the blade’s tang. Screws onto or is otherwise secured to the tang. Also provides balance for the sword. Can be used offensively.
Crossguard: protects the user’s hand and is a transition piece between the blade and the grip. This style has religious symbolism due to its shape. Can be used offensively.
Grip: a hollow piece of wood that covers the tang; for gripping the sword. Can be wrapped in leather, brass wire, or any suitable material that aids the user or declares his status.
Fuller: a groove running down the length of the blade.  Removes weight and the two ridges at the ends of the concavity help strengthen the blade.
Double-edged blade: can cut on an upswing and a downswing.
Tip: the sharp end that no one wants to be facing; the business end.
The typical medieval sword was about 3 or 4 pounds!  Stamina played such an important role, coupling this with strength made the knight a potent force.

Photo by Scott Howard Higginbotham


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A Soul’s Ransom

 
Scott Howard Higginbotham writes under the name Scott Howard and is the author of A Soul’s Ransom, a novel set in the fourteenth century where William de Courtenay’s mettle is tested, weighed, and refined, and For a Thousand Generations where Edward Leaver navigates a world where his purpose is defined with an eye to the future.  His new release, A Matter of Honor, is a direct sequel to For a Thousand Generations.  It is within Edward Leaver's well-worn boots that Scott travels the muddy tracks of medieval England.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Sir Godfrey Kneller, the de Veres, and the Beauclerks

by Margaret Porter

Such are thy pictures, Kneller, and such thy skill,
That Nature seems obedient to thy will;
Comes out and meets thy pencil in the draught,
Lives there, and wants but words to speak her thoughts.
                                                       ~~ John Dryden

Aubrey de Vere, 20th Earl of Oxford
In 1678, two years after arriving in England with his brother, the German artist Godfrey Kneller produced a magisterial, much-admired portrait of King Charles II. As a result, "his reputation daily increased so that most noblemen and ladies would have their pictures done by him," irrespective of their political affiliation or religious preferences. Aubrey de Vere, 20th Earl of Oxford, a soldier and courtier boasting one of the longest pedigrees in the land, was among the artist's subjects. Kneller painted his illustrious client in battle armour. 

the first portrait
When the Earl's daughter Lady Diana de Vere first posed for Kneller, she was no more than ten years old. Holding up a floral garland, she stands beside her younger sister Mary, seated beside her. By the early 1680s, when this double portrait  was completed, the German artist was at the pinnacle of prominence.

Nell Gwyn, with her son and without, with or without her clothes on, was often painted by renowned portraitists Peter Lely and Simon Verelst. Kneller succeeded them as the most fashionable artist of the day, remaining so after Nell’s death in 1687 and the Glorious Revolution of the following year. King William III and Queen Mary II shared the deposed James II's preference for Kneller's work.

Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St Albans
By 1690 Nell's son and heir, the Duke of St Albans, had embarked upon a military career. At about that time the handsome young man posed for a three-quarter length portrait. This would be the first of many Beauclerk portraits produced by Kneller, now a naturalised Englishman. He'd established a residence and studio in the north east corner of Covent Garden. Not only the nobility flocked there--the Duke’s father, King Charles II, had also visited the artist to sit for his portraits, a mark of great favour.

One of Kneller's most memorable and presumably enjoyable commissions came a year after the double coronation of William and Mary. As the former battled foreign enemies on the Continent, the Queen decided to imitate her own mother's gallery of beauties at Windsor Castle, produced by Lely. Mary proposed a set of paintings for Hampton Court Palace, being altered by Sir Christopher Wren to suit her and William's architectural tastes. Her plan was mocked by her father’s former mistress, Lady Dorchester, who famously quipped, "Madam, if the King was to ask for portraits of all the wits in his court, would not the rest think he called them fools?"

Diana, a Hampton Court Beauty
Undeterred, Mary put Kneller to work, and her loveliest and most virtuous attendants made their way to his studio to have their charms preserved as life-sized canvases. Of the twelve original paintings only eight remain. The most admired of the set is that of Lady Diana de Vere, who at that time was either officially or unofficially attached to the court as maid of honor. She poses with an orange tree, holding an orange in her hand—doubtless designating the de Veres’ fealty to the new rulers from the House of Orange. The paintings of Diana and the other ladies were positioned in the narrow spaces between the tall windows of Hampton Court's riverside Water Gallery (later demolished). Each was set within a blue-and-white painted frame to complement the Queen’s extensive Delftware collection. Diana's portrait currently hangs in the King’s Dining Room, and is now surrounded by giltwood frame. Duchess of St Albans, the title she gained at her marriage to Charles Beauclerk, was inscribed at a later date. (A detail of this work appears on the cover of my novel A Pledge of Better Times.)

The 20th Earl of Oxford 
in Garter Robes
 Having pleased the monarchs with portraits of beauties and military men, on 3 March 1691/2, Kneller became Sir Godfrey. “His Majesty, to shew his Kingly approbation of his Art and Manners, was pleas’d to confer the Honour of Knighthood upon him…and as an extraordinary Mark of his Grace and Favour, Honour’d him with the Present of a Sword, by the Hands of the Right Honourable Lord Chamberlain." The artist also became a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber, and received an honorary doctorate from Oxford. An acquaintance reported, "In June 1693 Sir Godfrey Kneller told me he has had fourteen persons sett to him in a day." Some of those persons sat to him as many as a dozen times for a single portrait! Diana’s father, Lord Oxford, a Knight of the Garter, a member of the Privy Council, a Lieutenant General, and a Gentleman of the King’s Bedchamber, commissioned a splendid full-length Kneller likeness at approximately the time his daughter was posing for her Beauty portrait.

Diana, 1694
Author's collection
Upon her marriage in 1694, Diana became Duchess of St Albans and again sat to Kneller—for a third time. The painting was promptly delivered to engraver John Smith, who revised her features and hair somewhat when producing prints for public sale. One of these holds a special place in my personal art gallery!

 In 1695, the Crown granted Kneller an annuity of £200 per year. Two years afterwards he received additional proofs of William’s admiration, a large gold medal stamped with the King’s image and a golden chain worth £300. It appears in most of the later self-portraits (as seen below) and on the bust attached to his burial monument.
After her accession to the throne, Diana’s friend Queen Mary would sit only to Kneller. A copy of her portrait, or the King’s, could be purchased for the price of £50, and judging from their wide dissemination this was a reliable source of income for Kneller and his assistants. Not only were the paintings acquired for civic and government buildings, they went abroad as presents to fellow rulers, territorial governors, ambassadorial residences, and so forth. And Kneller even travelled with—or without—the King, to make portraits of foreign allies and friends in the Low Countries.

1st Duke of St Albans, 1704
Kneller produced a Kit-Kat style portrait of Charles Beauclerk wearing a blue coat in 1704, as the the Duke was falling out of favour with Queen Anne—not that he ever really had it. Probably at her husband's instigation, Kneller created additional pictures of Diana: seated in a landscape wearing “a dark blue dress with red scarf,” and an oval half-length in which she appears in a “white dress with red mantle and holding a chalice.” These two passed through auction houses and are privately owned. Lord Cholmondeley’s Houghton Hall holds another Kneller portrait of “the Duchess of St. Albans ... in a blue dress, her son in a brown coat and a purple mantle, at her side.”

Duke of St Albans
The private family apartments of a Gloucestershire castle contain large three-quarter sized portraits of both Charles and Diana, and I greatly appreciate the owners’ invitation to view and photograph these paintings. They appear to have been created in 1718, after Charles became a Knight of the Garter—he wears a handsome crimson coat crossed with a blue sash from which hangs a jewel-studded Lesser George medallion.


Diana, Duchess of St Albans


Diana sits serenely in a white dress, fingering a blue ribbon. By my count this later painting represents the seventh time she posed for Kneller, indicating that she must have got to know him rather well!




Kneller's Self-portrait
Kneller was a companion of Dryden, Addison, Swift, and Pope, most of whom wrote verses proclaiming his talent and fame and what they regarded as his genius. He died aged seventy-four on 7 November, 1723, three years ahead of his regular client the Duke of St Albans. Two days before his death his friend Pope visited him, and declared, “I believe, Sir Godfrey, if Almighty God had had your assistance, the world would have been formed more perfect.”

These laudatory lines were composed by Addison:

Thou, Kneller, long with noble pride,
The foremost of thy art hast vied
With nature in a generous strife,
And touched the canvas into life.

Though later critics were less enamoured of Kneller’s style and works than his contemporaries, I remain forever grateful to him for touching those canvases and presenting my characters as they appeared to him in life!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Images: thepeerage.com, National Portrait Gallery, Wikimedia Commons, author's collection and personal photo archive

Sources: Documents in the British Library; Sir Godfrey Kneller: His Life & Times, Lord Killanin; Beauty, Sex, and Power: A Story of Debauchery and Decadent Art at the Late Stuart Court, Brett Dolman, David Souden, Olivia Fryman; Oxford Dictionary of English Biography

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Margaret Porter, who can claim a few tiny drops of de Vere blood, is the award-winning and bestselling author of several historical fiction genres, and is also published in nonfiction and poetry. A Pledge of Better Times, the story of courtiers Lady Diana de Vere and Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St. Albans, and of Diana's father Aubrey de Vere, was just released in trade paperback and ebook. Margaret studied British history in the UK and the US. As historian, her areas of speciality are social, theatrical, and garden history of the 17th and 18th centuries, royal courts, and portraiture. A former actress, she gave up the stage and screen to devote herself to fiction writing, travel, and her rose gardens.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Everyday Medieval Women

By E.M. Powell

So much of the fascination of history is accounts of kings and queens, mighty battles and events that helped shape the modern world. Medieval history is no exception. The murder of Thomas Becket, The Wars of the Roses, Magna Carta, Richard the Lionheart, the Crusades: all indeed showstoppers. But what of the everyday day life that millions of people had to lead? I confess to finding that equally, and at times, even more absorbing. When visiting re-enactments or museums, I’m less taken with sword A or helmet B, but more likely to watch as a woman makes a dish of pottage using twelfth century implements and ingredients.

Medieval Cooking Pot
© York Museums Trust used with permission.


The fascination for me is that it’s so relatable. Everyone has to make their way in the world and we (most of us, anyway) don’t do it from the battlements of a castle. Yet even in the history of the ordinary man, it tends to be just that. Men. Whatever sparse records exist tend to disappear almost entirely when it comes to women, as so many records are linked to land. We do know some of what life was like for a woman who was not at the top of the social tree: challenging is a word that springs to mind.

Amazon.co.uk

Everyday women were excluded from holding any kind of office. A woman’s legal rights were defined primarily by men throughout her life. Men defined her description. When she was a maiden, her father was in charge. As a wife, her husband. A medieval legal definition of married women from 1180 tells us that “every married woman is a sort of infant.” A wife has to agree to her husband’s sexual demands, cannot borrow money without his permission and is not able to make a will. A widow’s standing is based on her late husband’s status. This might suggest some level of independence.

Amazon.co.uk

But the widow of a villein (a tenant entirely subject to a lord) had, in reality, to remarry. She had a brief few months to make her own choice. If she did not, then the lord’s bailiff or reeve would select her next spouse for her. Refusal brought a fine, or imprisonment. Giving birth to an illegitimate child carried a fine called childwyte. This seems particularly punitive when one considers the law on rape. It was believed that conception could only occur when a woman experienced orgasm. And if she did so, then she had enjoyed the encounter with the man. And so it wasn’t rape. Blinding logic. For medieval men, that is.

Amazon.co.uk 

Childbirth was a terribly risky endeavour for medieval women, no matter what their status in society. It is estimated that for every pregnancy, a woman had a one in fifty chance of dying in childbirth. Women from the lower classes were often employed as wet-nurses for the wealthy.

The wives of peasants and villeins shared much of the agricultural labour with their husbands. They could earn money as labourers but were paid about half than men for the same work. Seasonal work paid better than service. Women’s tasks included sheep shearing, milking cows and looking after livestock and chickens, planting, winnowing and weeding. This was on top of all the domestic tasks: keeping a fire, cooking, washing.

Amazon.co.uk

The dark hours were put to good use also. Cheese making and brewing could yield a woman some extra income. Many women brewed ale. The demand for ale was high as drinking water was frequently dirty and unsafe. While the brewers were women, the tasters were male and women could be fined for sour beer. With the introduction of hops to brewing (which makes beer, rather than ale and preserves the drink for a lot longer), it became a male-dominated practice, through women continued to sell it.

With the expansion of towns and cities in the medieval period, women found other opportunities to earn an income. Many unmarried young women opted for service as it gave a yearly wage and moved from the countryside to secure a place. Women also worked as huxters. They would buy produce such as bread, eggs, vegetables or other foods and sell from baskets, either door-to-door or on foot in the increasingly busy marketplaces. The female ale sellers went by some rather wonderful names: gannockers, tapsters or tranters. The money earned in these ways was pitifully small.

Amazon.co.uk

Medieval towns also saw the rise of the apprentice, where a young person could be trained to learn a craft over many years. But there were no female guilds, and female apprenticeships do not occur in large numbers in the records. The skilled weavers, for instance, were men. The preparatory work for weaving, such as combing, carding and spinning of the wool tended to be done by women who would be paid little for this work. Silk weaving developed as an all-female craft in London, yet the silk-women only formed a collective, not a guild.

Laundry was an all-female preserve. Women did their own washing at home, often using unpleasant substances such as lye and urine as cleaning agents. They also worked as laundresses, travelling to the houses of the rich to carry out their duties. Naturally, the work in the laundry is dismissed by some chroniclers as a hot-bed of gossiping. It must in reality have been back-breaking.

Amazon.co.uk

Moving to towns and cities made women vulnerable to exploitation. Prostitution was rife. Female prostitutes were tolerated in fourteenth century London so long as they wore a yellow hood that marked them out. This was to save confusion on behalf of men who might mistake a respectable woman for a prostitute.

I like chain-mailed heroes as much as the next medieval history fan. But for me, these forgotten women were pretty darned heroic too. Speaking as an everyday woman, I'm so privileged I have my life and not theirs.

References:
Included in the post above with Amazon links: there is so much more to discover in them about ordinary life in medieval times.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~


E.M. Powell’s medieval thrillers The Fifth Knight and The Blood of the Fifth Knight have been #1 Amazon bestsellers. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she lives in northwest England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. She blogs for English Historical Fiction Authors, reviews for the Historical Novel Society and contributes to The Big Thrill. Find out more at www.empowell.com.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sibling Relations in the Medieval World

by Helena P. Schrader

Throughout the Middle Ages family ties were imprisoning. Everything revolved around family. Families stuck together through thick and thin. They paid each other's ransoms. They stood as hostages for one another. They were witnesses for one another’s contracts. They were each other’s clients and lords. They fought together and were buried in the same crypt.



Henry II and Richard I, enemies in life, lie side-by-side in Frontevauld Abbey.

This does not, of course, mean that all family members got along with one another all the time. On the contrary, the tensions within medieval families could be brutal and bitter. (The best example is, of course, Henry II, who had to fight wars with his sons, and whose sons fought each other in a series of shifting alliances.) But where there was less at stake or where personalities (and egos) less grandiose, families usually worked together and presented a common front to the outside world regardless of how many rivalries and tensions they had among themselves.

This record is astonishing when one remembers how fluid medieval families were, with high mortality removing siblings and parents, and when one considers how short childhood was.  Princes were often set up in their own household at a very early age; Edward of Woodstock, for example, had his own household physically separated from his parents and siblings from the age of three. Even younger sons were expected to leave the parental home at the age of seven to serve first as pages and then squires in the households of other lords, not returning until they were knighted at 16 or 17. Admittedly, in some cases this may have helped forge the bonds between brothers, if they were close enough in age to serve together somewhere else, becoming natural allies, or where they were sent to the households of much older brothers as was the case of John of Gaunt, who was raised for a time in the Black Prince’s household. But for the majority of boys, the years of training would have been years of separation from their family.

Yet the history of the Middle Ages is littered with examples of brothers who had very close ties. With the notable exception of Henry II’s sons, most Plantagenet brothers were astonishingly close. Henry III and Richard of Cornwall, Edward II and the unfortunate Edmund of Kent, the Black Prince and John of Gaunt, Edward IV and Richard III are all examples of princes who supported one another even at the risk of their lives or beyond the grave as John of Gaunt did by supporting his brother’s son. Nor were such ties between brothers unique to princes. William Marshal tried to help his elder brother, even when the latter was on the wrong side of politics. The Lusignan brothers together tried to capture Eleanor of Aquitaine and, after that failed, all three younger brothers sought their fortune in the Holy Land with astonishing success. The Montfort brothers fought together to conquer their father’s intransigent Viscounty, and it was the death of one that discouraged the others and induced them to give up the struggle. In the following generation, Simon de Montfort the Younger’s sons fought together unfailingly. The “Ibelin brothers” are named together as if they were a single unit in many accounts of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Robert the Bruce was at times abandoned by practically everybody except his brothers. Indeed, Medieval society expected brothers to stand together in right and wrong, and any other kind of behavior was considered unsavory or an indication of an individual’s exceptional unworthiness.


Sisters too were close, but this is more understandable as they were generally raised together — until they married. Marriage could, of course, occur at a very early age. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Marguerite Capet was betrothed at 8 months (yes, months) and married at age three, the age at which she moved in with her in-laws. But whether sisters by blood or marriage, young girls generally stayed together under the tutelage of their mother, mother-in-law or step-mother until they were sexually mature and old enough to run their own household as the wives of mature men. (By mature men, I don’t necessarily mean emotionally mature men, only legally mature, which was roughly 15 years of age in the medieval world, although it varied from kingdom to kingdom and across the centuries.) Notably, regardless of the age a girl was at her wedding, consummation of the marriage and co-habitation with a husband did not generally occur until after a girl had reached sexual maturity, which could be as young as 12 but was more often 14 or 15. As a result, it is hardly surprising that we have many examples of women retaining close ties to their sisters throughout their lives. One of my favorite examples is the enduring affection of Queen Eleanor, Henry III’s Queen, for her sister Marguerite, Queen of Louis IX of France, although their husbands were sometimes at war with one another.

More touching, given how often they were separated, are examples of brothers and sisters with strong ties. Richard I was so outraged by his sister Joanna’s treatment at the hands of her husband’s successor that he threatened to use his crusading army to obtain her rights and forced a very favorable settlement upon the King of Sicily. Henry III was so fond of his sister Eleanor that he let her marry far below her station, the third son of a French parvenu, Simon de Montfort, a decision he surely came to regret. Richard I, of course, might have been more concerned about a perceived affront to the English crown and his own honor than his sister’s welfare, but he did take her with him on crusade and there are other indications that they were close. Among the nobility there are many similar examples.

All of which goes to show that family ties, even when under stress — or perhaps particularly under stress — are amazingly resilient. Shared identity and shared nurseries appears to have forged remarkable bonds between siblings which could transcend political fronts (as in the case of the Marshal brothers or the Provence sisters) and certainly bridged long distances and long absences.

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Helena P. Schrader is the author of numerous works of history and historical fiction.  She holds a PhD in History from the University of Hamburg.  The first book of a three-part biographical novel of Balian d’Ibelin, who defended Jerusalem against Saladin in 1187 and was later one of Richard I’s envoys to Saladin, is now available for sale.  Read more at:
http://helenapschrader.com or follow Helena’s blogs:Schrader’s Historical Fiction and Defending the Crusader Kingdoms.

A Biographical Novel of Balian d’Ibelin
Book I


A landless knight,
                A leper King
                                And the struggle for Jerusalem.





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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Von Aufsess Occupation Diaries: A Remarkable Testament of the Second World War

By Mark Patton

From 1940 to 1945, the Channel Islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm were the only British territories occupied by German forces, an occupation that I have explored, in general terms, in an earlier blog-post. As one might expect, for such a recent conflict, there are a great many first-hand accounts of the occupation, written from a wide variety of viewpoints, but one stands out as being of particular interest.



Hans Max von Aufsess was a Franconian aristocrat, assigned to the islands in a quasi-diplomatic role to liaise with the civil authorities. Although he was always subordinate to the most senior German officers in the garrison, he was allowed a relatively free hand in his dealings with the Bailiff of Jersey, Alexander Coutanche, and the senior politicians of the islands.

Von Aufsess claimed, in a preface to the published diary in 1984, to have kept the diary as "a purely personal chronicle of the times, written rather for the relief of confiding to paper thoughts which could not be expressed aloud, than with the interests of the future historian in mind."

German officers in Jersey (Photo: Imperial War Museum, Non-Commercial License).

Although he spent most of the war on the islands, he did not start keeping the diary until July 1944. "The situation in the last ten months of the war," he later explained, was probably without precedent in the annals of military history and international law," and it was these months, specifically, that he was keen to document, a time during which the islands were by-passed by the fighting, and during which both occupiers and occupied, cut off from any supplies, came close to starvation.

The SS Vega, which brought Red Cross supplies to the islands. As combatants, the German garrison were entitled to none of these supplies, but senior officers, including Baron von Aufsess, were entertained on board. Photo: Imperial War Museum (Non-Commercial License, HU25968).

They were times, also, dominated by fear. Von Aufsess had nightmares about the fate of his wife (she was, in fact, arrested by the Gestapo, suspected of lending some form of support to those who attempted to assassinate Hitler). In his darkest moments, he feared even for himself: "Reason and a sense of proportion have become suspect as reactionary. The shadow of the gallows hangs over all of us, especially the nobility."

The allied bombardment of Saint Malo, in northern Brittany, the German garrison's last point of contact with the continent. Von Aufsess recalls the precise moment at which the guns (they could be clearly heard from Jersey) went silent. Photo: US Army (image is in the Public Domain).

"We discuss the delicate question of reprisals against the civilian population for sheltering escaped prisoners," he wrote in August 1944 (the prisoners in question were slave workers, Spanish Republicans and Ukrainians, Poles & Russians captured on the Eastern Front). "I am the only one in favour of restraint." Some islanders were indeed arrested and sent to internment camps for such offences, and not all of them survived the war, but Von Aufsess's policy of restraint seems to have prevailed in most cases.

He describes meals of "stinging nettles, sorrel ... and root vegetables ... with a small supply of beet syrup," but he somehow had Cognac stashed away, and was, as far as was possible, still living the life of an aristocrat, socialising with local families and even exercising horses on the beach: "Then came Froni, the white mare, wild, intractable ... I rode her bareback in my bathing trunks and managed to keep her, if with difficulty, under control."

Everything changed, however, in March 1945. A new Commandant was appointed over the islands, Admiral Friedrich Huffmeier, an ardent Nazi. Von Aufsess was summoned to a meeting, in which the admiral explained to him "his ideas for holding out in the islands for as long as possible," perhaps even after the end of the war. "It had come to his knowledge that I was not a good National Socialist." At one point, the baron, fearing his imminent arrest, actually planned an escape from Jersey with a group of islanders, but abandoned this when someone he trusted reassured him that his fears were groundless.

Von Aufsess seems to have had some plan in his mind to assassinate Huffmeier if he did attempt to hold the islands as some form of Nazi enclave when the war ended. In the end, however, his diplomatic touch may have proved more effective than a pistol. "The admiral, in a feat of silly pique and pride, at first threatened to fire on the English ships when they arrived a few hours ahead of the agreed time ... the admiral surrendered without, as he had threatened, blowing up all the arms and ammunition ... But his intentions came perilously close to being put into effect."

HMS Bulldog, one of the two Royal Navy warships sent to liberate the Channel Islands on 9th May, 1945. Photo: Imperial War Museum, FL1817 (image is in the Public Domain).

Of course, the full truth is unknowable. Despite his protestations that the diaries were purely personal, Von Aufsess is at pains to emphasise his anti-Nazi credentials, and to record each and every act of opposition to Huffmeier and the Nazi regime. By the time he started keeping the diaries, he had certainly concluded that an allied victory was inevitable, and he may, if only subconsciously, have been preparing the grounds for his defence in a trial that was never to come about. For all of this, the diaries are fascinating account of the political and psychological dimensions of an extraordinary moment in history.

Mark Patton blogs regularly on aspects of history and literature at http://mark-patton.blogspot.co.uk. His novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon UK or Amazon USA.